After calling, the weight of the world left my shoulders.

After a friend told me about the hotline, I must have stared at my phone for an hour. What would I say? What would they say? I didn't want to be judged any more and it was all I could think of. 

Once I dialed, though, things felt better. The advocate listened, understood and said they were happy that I called. What?! If they were happy, I was ecstatic. Just talking about my abuse felt great, I'd never told anyone the whole story. 

Did you know more than 60 people call the Steps to Domestic Violence hotline for the first time each month?

People like me, who aren't sure what to do, where to go, what comes next. Advocates possess an amazing tool belt, they connect us to resources and programs to help us in our journeys, supporting us the whole way. 

When you support Steps to End Domestic Violence, you're supporting me. Because of you, I'm empowered to talk about my abuse and I'm working to take the steps I need to turn the page on my next chapter. 

Will you donate today and help make a difference in my life? 

Tainted Love

NOTE: The following was written by a real person about their experiences with domestic violence. Please note potential triggers in this important piece.


For as long as I can remember, my concept of love was tainted. Love was presented to me as something that was given with conditions and impossible expectations. After years of confusion I began to replace love with codependency. The grips of codependency brought me to my knees long before I indulged in any mood/mind altering substance. Before I ever picked up a drink/drug, my addictive nature preyed upon validation and approval. Maybe traumas and the environment of my childhood propelled my incessant need to please, or maybe I was always a glutton for punishment. At the root of almost every human heart is the desire to love and to be loved. I was no exception, in fact I clung to validation for survival. From an early age, I never learned how to validate myself. Perhaps it was the lack of emotional safety I experienced or maybe it was the fundamental inability to deal with life on life’s terms. Either way, I was spiraling, out of control, with no safety net in sight.


My first experience with domestic violence started at a very young age. My stepmother was bipolar and untreated. Her angry outbursts were unpredictable and seemingly unprovoked. I could misplace a dish in the dishwasher and war was raging. I vividly remember my father having to step in between her attacks, on too many occasions. In all honesty, the emotional abuse I endured was far worse than any mark or bruise left behind. During the most impressionable adolescent years of my life, I was constantly reminded “you just need to be the adult, you know how she is.”  I wore the “adult child” title like a badge of honor. I was reminded that she was not my biological mother and she did not sign up to raise me. As you can imagine, this caused an ungodly amount of confusion and ravished my self esteem. I became the unwanted stepdaughter and I wasted years of my life attempting to fit into the ever changing box she wanted me to fit in. I lived in complete and utter turmoil, always feeling that I was less than and I acted as if.


Fast forward to the day my first abuser, my stepmom, passed away unexpectedly. I was absolutely wrecked and the only viable solution: oblivion. I crossed over the threshold and my drug addiction had me by the throat. I walked through hell and back, dancing with opiates along the way, and completely delusional. I found solace in chaos. Opiate detox was my reprieve, perhaps I was a glutton for punishment. This became the theme years to come, until the fear of change was far less agonizing than the pain I was experiencing.


I was finally willing to get help for my addiction but I had no idea that beneath the self medicating, was a scared little girl. A year sober, and I met him. He was charming, attractive, spontaneous, and seemed to be everything I wanted. Truly sober, for the first time ever, I really had no concept of what was best for me. My shallow standards made it easy for him to enter in and wreck my world. I’ve always been the giver and I’ve always gravitated towards the takers. Again, a glutton for punishment I assume. Infatuation set in, and I was all in. My entire world became him. We never spent any time talking about anything other than him. The first red flag probably would’ve been the night I wanted to leave his house and he threw my keys at me. I remember it was 12am and dark in the room, barely missing my eye, I was a bloodied mess. He didn’t believe he hurt me until he turned on the light and saw the carnage. A quick trip to the ER (of course he tagged along to be sure I complied with the lie we orchestrated) and a swollen black eye, I concluded he really didn’t mean to hit me in the eye. I remember him apologizing but always ending the apology with some form of “but you or because you”. He always wiped his hands clean from any sort of accountability. Yet again, another red flag. We were maybe 8 months into the relationship when the verbal abuse started. Slowly but surely then came the financial abuse and crazy control manipulations. Physical pain would eventually subside but the emotional trauma scarred me. I remember being 9 months pregnant, scrubbing bathroom floors to bring in some income and avoid the abuse. Just like the 15 year old girl trying to earn love through obtaining impossible perfection from my stepmother, I was sure I could win him over if I could just play my part. I was wrong.

As time progressed, I realized I was in a relationship with the male version of my stepmother. The abuse progressed, as it always does, from pushing me, to blows to the body, to eventually breaking my ribs. Want to hear the insanity of abuse? I still didn’t leave, I actually lied to my family and all of my coworkers. I told everyone I fell on my daughter’s toy. We moved into a new place and per usual, the ups and downs ebbed and flowed like the sweet but piercingly cold mountain stream. The abuse continued and the severity of the total demoralization was incomprehensible. I couldn’t separate delusion from reality, just like when I was actively using drugs/alcohol. So here I was, a year and a half sober and living in mirroring insanity.

The turning point… I can remember it vividly, as if it happened yesterday. We had one of our very common explosive arguments but this time the kids woke up and walked into the room. He had me on the ground with his hands around my throat and my kids were screaming for him to stop. Something broke inside of me. I got up, ignoring his desperate pleas, grabbed my kids, left the house, and called the cops. God moved my feet, just like the day I got sober. He was arrested and spent the night in jail. CPS got involved (because the children were present) and demanded we separate.


For the first time in my life, I pulled myself up off the floor and I met fear face to face. I valiantly walked through the fire, but not without the help of the people who loved me the most. I told everyone the truth about what had been going on and I swore to myself that I would never go back. We have children together so this relationship continues to be a work in progress. I have set boundaries and I hold firm to the consequences when he doesn’t follow suit. I believe the phrase “don’t let your past come back to haunt you” was coined from situations like this one. The truth is, unhealed trauma resurfaces and from my experience I kept seeking out what I was familiar with: abusive chaos. The life I live today is so liberating. Breaking a grueling generational curse, I make decisions today that harvest the future I want for myself and my kids. I continue to seek out therapy for my PTSD, addiction, and trauma. I am constantly surrounding myself with women that have my best interest at heart. I am almost 3 years sober today.  I have walked through the fire with dignity and grace. If you are a victim of domestic violence, don’t give up. Don’t stop reaching out to the people that love you. Anonymously reach out to the resources on this site. Visit your local battered women’s shelter. Never give up, you are beautiful.

The author of this piece wishes to include this link with their story: 
www.detoxlocal.com/resources/domestic-violence-addiction/

Giving Tuesday is almost here!

Move over Cyber Monday - We celebrate the day you can really feel good about... Giving Tuesday!

This national day of giving puts you - the donor - in control, choosing which causes you want to support. We want to tell you where your donation goes when you give to Steps to End Domestic Violence. 

This year, we're focusing on PREVENTION! 

Did you know that our Education and Prevention Coordinator visits area schools, business and community groups to talk about the ways in which people can recognize domestic and dating violence, better preparing them to identify it in their own lives and the lives of others? This knowledge is invaluable, as helping a friend or family member could potentially save their lives. 

In addition, by starting with youth, we are able to help individuals grow up with a true understanding of what a healthy relationship is, what it means to be safe in the digital age, to know the role technology may play into aspects of power and control in their relationships, how to talk about domestic and dating violence and - we hope - to over time erase taboos so that those experiencing domestic violence don't feel isolated and misunderstood. 

When you choose to support us on November 27, you're telling the world that it's time to end domestic violence - you're taking a stand.

Pssst - You don't have to wait until Giving Tuesday to donate! Do it now on our special Giving Tuesday page.

Young, Scared, and Trapped

NOTE: The following was written by a real person. A real survivor. 
Please note potential triggers in this important piece.

I was 19 years old and had the world at my fingertips.  I came from the picture perfect family… two cars in the garage, two successful working parents, nice house, a dog, and two children, a boy and a girl.  I was the girl. I had no reason to be attracted to a “bad boy” or someone I knew would break my heart but I did it anyways.  When I turned 18 I took my first drink and that is what started a long road of alcoholism for me.  I hated the way it tasted but loved the way it made me feel.  I felt outgoing, accepted, fun, pretty, and confident. When in actuality I was the opposite of these things but was just hiding behind the veil of alcohol.


When I met him I had just started experimenting with drugs.  I was really good at playing the part of the perfect daughter and my parents had no idea I was drinking or doing drugs.  I guess you could say I fell in with the wrong crowd and every single decision I had made up until that point led me to the desperate place I was the day I met him.  I was broken, insecure, had no idea who I was, and was seeking approval from everyone around me. He was 23 so he was legal to buy us alcohol and was the “cool kid” in our little group.  I wanted a piece of that importance in my life. Someone who was better than me to love me so I wouldn’t feel like I was completely worthless. I fell in line… I played the part and became someone I knew he would be interested in.  I changed everything about myself to get him, and I did.


We drank, we partied, and we fought.  A couple of weeks after we had started dating while heavily intoxicated he dropped me off at my house and came in arguing with me.  He slapped me across the face and went flying across the room onto the couch. He took off out of my house and my mom came running downstairs to see what had happened.  Needless to say my family did not want me to ever see him again but after that night I got really good at hiding the bruises and acting as if everything was ok.


One fateful night I could no longer hide it and my friends saw the abuse first hand.  We had a party at his house and all of my friends from work came. We were drinking and having a great time… then the night turned in a absolute nightmare.  I was talking to one of my guy friends in the kitchen and he came in accusing me of cheating on him with my friends and pushed me into the counter and punched me in the face.  My friend tried to pull him off of me and got hit himself. He reached around and grabbed a large butcher knife and started chasing me around the house trying to stab me.


At this point the abuse was no longer a secret and I could not hide it anymore.  As he chased me around the house with the knife chaos broke loose and everyone was trying to get out of there unharmed.  He threw me to the ground and I my head smacked into the concrete and I felt the hot blood spilling out of me. I thank God everyday for my friends who made sure I got out of there safely and pulled me off of the floor in time for me to escape with my life.  I went to the hospital to treat my wounds. The police showed up to tell me they had arrested him and took statements from my friends and I.

He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, and prosecuted by the state.  I was free from him but still in the grips of the trauma that had happened over the last year.  I was away at college at the time and could not completely abandon my studies to get inpatient treatment but my drinking and drug use got much worse to avoid feeling the trauma of what had happened to me.  I knew if I did not deal with these emotions it would run me for the rest of my life. My mom watched me in this downward spiral and stepped in to find me help. I started in a 90 day outpatient program with intensive therapy to deal with my trauma and substance abuse.


It was incredibly difficult and painful but it taught me how to cope and heal from the trauma of the abuse.  I am not going to lie there are still triggers that hit me out of nowhere and take me back those moments, but I now have the coping skills to process those emotions and work through it.  Through working a program of recovery in AA I am now healthy, happy, and sober and no longer need to numb my feeling with substances!


Was this difficult?  Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely yes!  By working through these events in my life I was able to break the cycle.  Now my passion has become helping other women who have been or still are where I was at.  You are worth living the beautiful that you deserve!


Where do I even Start….

NOTE: The following was written by a real person. A real survivor. 
Please note potential triggers in this important piece.

I guess it all started when we moved from New York City to New Jersey. I thought so highly of the move. I was going to start at a new school, my old friend went there so I assumed we would hang out and I’d make all new friends and it would be my clean start. I was very wrong. I had no friends at my new school, nobody talked to me and I was more alone than ever. I hated it in New Jersey. I loved the house, loved the area, but felt miserable. Due to being so alone I called up an old friend whom I hadn’t talked to in quite some time due to a fight we got into.

She and myself started talking as if nothing happened and fell into easily hanging out regularly again. One night in Mid January of 2014, Just after my 17th birthday we decided to meet up with another girl we knew. That night was with numerous people, one of them being him.

He was everything I thought was attractive back then. He dressed cool, talked cool, and had alcohol + drugs that I was more than happy to take. The rest of that night everyone just hung out and had fun. The timeline of this story is all a little fuzzy so exact dates and the order of events may not be 100% accurate but I will try to keep it as close as I can remember.

It is now February and I have been seeing him more regularly. Sleeping over, drinking, partying, and had a makeout session on February 1 during the Superbowl. I was alone with him on the night of February 5, 2014 when he asked me to be his girlfriend. I was over the moon. I’ve never had a real boyfriend before. I went home the next day so happy and eager to see him again. I stopped going to school and only wanted to see him. He lived in New York City, drank, was fun - what more could I of asked for? I quickly decided that living in New Jersey wasn’t cutting it for me anymore and packed my bags and left while my father was at work. At first everything was great, until one night.

It is march now & my period is late. I didn’t want to worry him so I went out on my own and tried to steal a pregnancy test which came out positive. Having no money and being scared, I told him and asked my father to transfer money to buy another test just to make sure. I now know there are clinics which test you for free but I was young and didn’t know about resources. He, knowing that I now had money in my account wanted to buy pizza so he told me to get the cheapest one. After buying the test (with two in a pack) he was furious that he didn’t get what he wanted, pushed me against the wall in the doorway of our building and began strangling me. This was the first incident. I was so confused. Why did I buy two tests when he wanted food? Whats wrong with me? I automatically blamed myself, went upstairs and begged my father to send more money so he could eat.

After this incident it all starts to blur together. Things like that would happen to often I don’t even remember them all. There was an incident in the bathroom where he hit my head against the sink. I came out and it turned into a big fight with me, my friend and him. We all woke up the next morning with blood everywhere, furniture broken, but nobody spoke about it. Times when he would strangle me to the point I lost my vision and eventually come to lying on the floor with him standing over me with this look. If anyone has ever been in an abusive relationship, they know what look I’m speaking of. There is no compassion, no love, no safety when staring into those empty eyes. Strangling was his go to method of abuse. I remember once being strangled and coming to with my dog lying on my lap looking so scared. There were times I had bruises everywhere, where he would be hitting me in front of his friends but nobody spoke up thinking it wasn't their business. Not to mention the verbal abuse I would encounter. Being told i’m no good, I’m a horrible person, nobody will love me.


One night I remember is when we all went to Niagara. Him, another couple and myself. It started off great as usual until he started to get upset at me then at my friend. I remember fighting in the hotel washroom and he began to strangle me. This is when she jumped on his back attempting to stop him. My memory jumps to her being on the bed and him flipping the mattress over, hauling her into the air. From there it jumps to me running down the street in Niagara as she tells me to run and hide. The next morning I was in the hotel room with him while the others stayed in the 24 hour Denny’s. I know there was a point we all were locked out, a point she climbed over a fence and cut herself, and a lot more but like I said, everything's a blur.  


One day his ex came back into town from Delaware and he wanted to see her. She came to our house and the whole time they were attached to each other leaving me to feel vulnerable and helpless. Being upset at the situation I went to shower and made him come into the bathroom with me just to make her upset. One day we all got a hotel and she was there. She stated that she needed to buy a lighter so he went with her, leaving me alone for over an hour. Afterwards we went to my mother's house and I was waiting in the bathroom while he kept talking to his ex. I yelled at her telling her to get out and she did - he & I walking her of course. I later found out that he cheated on me while looking for the lighter.

We would frequently visit my mother who absolutely adored him. She praised him because I loved him, so did she. We would all go out together and have a great night but when we went separate ways it wasn’t as much fun. At this point it must be May 2014 and we are living in a new apartment after being evicted. We are all doing drugs and I was talking and talking and talking. The next morning he was furious at me, screaming saying were over. Being over was not an option for me. Where would I live? I couldn’t go back to New Jersey. The whole morning I was in tears crying so hard I couldn't breathe. This lasted the majority of the day. It went in waves where he wasn’t angry then extremely angry. Nothing I said was right. Till this day, I will never know why he was so mad. Living in that apartment lasted a total of 17 days. He threw a party which led to us being evicted once again.

Having nowhere to live we decided to stay with my mother. It was a studio apartment with one bed we all shared + the dog. One night near the end of June 2014 his sister was throwing an after prom party in a hotel. We all were having a fun time, he was extremely intoxicated and everyone went home besides us. He fell asleep on the couch and when I went to wake him up he attacked me. I guess I blacked out after that because the next thing I remember is waking up on the bed with blood stained sheets around me. My body was sore and my eyes were hard to open. When I made it to the bathroom I couldn’t believe what I saw in the mirror. I had two black eyes, bruises covering my whole body and a swollen mouth. There was blood throughout my hair, under my nose, my mouth. When he woke up he asked me what happened and I told him the last thing I remembered. His sister later told me that someone came back to the room and heard crying and yelling but couldn’t get inside the hotel room.

After that incident we ended up living with my father for a bit until finding another apartment under a hair salon Mid July 2014. While living there a few occurrences stand out for me. One is where we were screaming at each other and I thought dying would be better than living like this anymore so I attempted to slit my throat. One morning my father promised to send money but only sent half which drove him crazy. He threw me on the floor and began stomping on me and kicking my head. I tried to get up over and over but he just continued to stomp or push me forward until I landed on my face. This happened for hours. I told him I would get the money but he didn’t care at this point. Eventually I convinced him to let me go switch the laundry from the place down the street and ran as fast as I could onto the bus. While sitting on the bus his sister called me saying how horrible of a person I am for leaving and making him stuck with the laundry. She called me so many terrible things and convinced me I’m horrible if I don’t return so I did. As for what happened the rest of the day, I don’t know.

That was another house we didn’t stay at long. He convinced himself that moving to Florida would be a better idea and we packed up and left once again. I felt like I couldn’t breathe without him. That was the longest week of my life without a doubt. I sold my laptop and anything else I could find, begged my sister for money and flew out to Florida. I convinced myself I could go to school there and we will live happily ever after but issues arose with his father, fights broke out between us, and we both flew back to New York City mid September 2014.


We stayed with my father at this point until late October 2014 until we moved into our Dufferin apartment. It was gross and small. While living here I remember locking myself in the bathroom terrified of him, being strangled on the bed, having to pee into an empty liquor bottle because he wouldn’t let me use the washroom. Any name you can be called, he called me and any bit of self worth I had was taken from me, yet I couldn’t live without him. Isn’t that how it always is though? They convince you that you are nothing without them.

March 2015 he was arrested for assaulting a transit driver and having a concealed weapon. He spent a week in jail for this and my father was the one who bailed him out. We went to go see a friend a few weeks after he was out and that night is when I was dragged by my hair on the sidewalk, pushed onto the bus and hit across the face, leaving my body on the bus floor. Tyler told the bus driver to call the police but she just told him to stop. Another witness who wasn’t phased by me being hurt.

It’s hard trying to piece together the timeline for when these happened. I am getting to the point where I cannot give you a specific month for these occurrences. I know there was a time when he strangled me at my mother’s house, another time we got into an argument at my fathers which left me with a chipped tooth from being punched in the mouth with a ring on, a fight that left me so vulnerable I sliced my leg open with a pair of scissors which resulted in 25 stitches. Being strangled up against a door with a key lock, sliding down to free myself and getting a cut from shoulder to hip across my back which left me with a scar,  kissing which led to him biting down super hard and leaving me with a hole right above my chin, being strangled in the washroom in New Jesey , being pressed between the door and wall until I couldn’t breathe, should I go on?

December 2015 we were living in Scarborough and were having a pretty ok night. We decided to have sex and during it he looked down at me and said your going to die tonight and began strangling me. I somehow got out of his hold and ran to the washroom. He came to say sorry and I got into the bedroom and locked the door. He banged and banged on it for an hour until it was knocked down. The next morning when the people upstairs asked what had happened, he explained that I fell asleep with it locked. Silly me.

January 2016 he moved away to Florida for good and I moved out on my own. This was the end of our relationship. Although I kept in contact with him and we spoke daily we agreed not to date. July 2016 was the final time he hurt me. I went to visit him in Florida and the whole time he was rude to me because we weren’t together and he felt hurt. I booked my plane ticket home because I couldn’t deal with how he was treating me. When he found out I was leaving he pushed me into the closet and strangled me until I lost vision. His dad came running in and I was crying. I got on the plane the next day and haven’t seen him since.

Although we spoke on the phone I never saw him again. It took me a very long time to cut all strings with him and move on. I know people are thinking “ why would you stay for so long?” and honestly, I can’t give a simple answer for that. I didn’t want to live with my father, I wanted to be loved. He convinced me that nobody would ever love me and I would be alone without him. He made sure I was dependent on him and that I couldn’t be on my own. He took me to places and we had a great time. I thought that I was at fault. If I didn’t say that I wouldn’t of got hurt.

It has taken me over two years since him leaving to be able to even speak about what happened during our relationship. I still flinch if someone moves to fast, and cry if someone raises their voice towards me. I am relearning my worth and to be honest, I will always have a piece of doubt in me because of him. I will always think back and wonder how it could of been better, what I did, why was I so hard to love. Why didn’t this happen to other girls ? I must be the issue. My mother passed away while we were together and I think somewhere within me held on to him because he knew her. How could I be with someone who didn’t know my mom?

I now have an amazing boyfriend who bends over backwards for me. He is my sunshine on all of my cloudy days and I am grateful that he loves me. I convinced myself I wasn’t capable of being loved. I did a lot of bad things towards myself physically & emotionally. I will never be who I was before this and I’m learning that it's okay. I have to grow from my experiences and don’t think any less of myself.

Other times stuff happened out of Timeline
* One night we are at his friend’s house and just like always a fight starts. I was pushed down the stairs and when I came back inside even his friend said he saw the look on his face. The empty eyes look. The next morning we’re outside screaming and fighting and he pushes me down the front stairs again and starts stepping on me. A neighbor witnessed this and called the police. When they showed up I freaked out saying don’t take him from me. This resulted in a restraining order, anger management courses and many court dates. Even that wasn’t enough to keep us apart. I was going to marry him, I was sure of it.

* Punched me in the face with his ring on and chipped my teeth

I feel safe.

NOTE: The following is a journal entry from a real person. A real survivor. 
Please note potential triggers in this important piece.

I feel safe. That is not a feeling that I have had in so long. But now I feel safe. I no longer have to hide in a bedroom praying someone won’t wake up. I no longer worry about leaving my house because I knew I would come home to be beaten. I no longer get called terrible names and hit because I needed to stay late at work. I no longer worry that my daughter would be his next target because he knows she means the world to me. I no longer worry that my stuff will be destroyed, pictures ripped up, or sentimental items thrown out. I finally feel safe.

 

I grew up in an abusive home. I was called names and abused. Looking back I think this is a big reason why I didn’t leave sooner. Abuse was normal to me. He showed me what I thought was love and I craved it. He made me think that I would never be loved as much as he loved me.  It never starts out as abuse in the beginning. Everything was perfect, too perfect. I still remember the first day he hit me. It was in front of his mom. He held me down on the ground and kept hitting me until I was able to get away. I should have stayed away, but of course there were the roses, chocolates, and I am sorry. He blamed it on drinking, he didn’t know what he was doing and he never wanted to hurt me. I believed him because I thought he loved me. And then several months later it would happen again.

 

I am not sure when it shifted from every few months, to every few weeks, to every few days, and then almost daily. The hitting turned into punching or an extension cord whip. It turned into putting lighter fluid on me and trying to set me on fire. It turned into my fault and not his. I let this go on for eight years. Eight years of being fearful of everything. Eight years of hiding objects so I couldn’t be hurt by them. Eight years of forcing me to have sex with him because “I was his wife”.  Eight years of him not working and taking any money I earned.

 

I still remember the final moments of living with him. I had asked him to move out. I was tired, but more importantly I saw how fearful my daughter was and I didn’t want that for her. I came home from work and instantly I knew something was wrong. This time hiding in the bedroom was not enough. Something told me to call the police something I was never brave enough to do. He took a kitchen knife and said it was over for us. I begged him not to do this. I fought hard. I fought with everything. In what seemed like hours the police showed up and he turned his rage on them. I don’t know why but I begged them not to hurt him. I lied and said it was the PTSD. He finally was disarmed and arrested. 

 

Now this is the part I am really not proud of, I protected him. I lied to the police and didn’t tell them about what happened prior to them getting there. I lied like all the other dozens of times the police were at my house. I instantly went in the mode to not let anyone know what was really wrong because I knew that meant it was really over.  I went to court and begged them to go easy. The judge listened and sent him to rehab for a few weeks.

 

Since I live on a military base and I am in the military my unit was notified of the incident at my house. For the first time someone was on my side and only cared how I was doing. They let me talk to them about everything and they just listened. At the end they went with me to get a restraining order and started my journey to end all contact with him. They were my support and family, something I really needed.

 

I have now only seen him a few times and that was for court. I was strong enough to testify against him for the incident that happened that night. I was the reason why he was finally punished for something he did. Recently I saw him again in court and this time it was to stand up to him for a divorce. It was like a huge weight had been lifted. I am no longer tied to him. I no longer have to worry he will hurt me. I feel safe.

Not ready for the uneasy feelings

NOTE: The following is a journal entry from a real person. A real survivor. 
Please note potential triggers in this important piece.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, read this.

My story of domestic violence : intending to make others aware of the reality of abuse.

I was determined that Monday September 19, 2016 was going to be a good day..then I got a text and an email and my heart sank to my feet and my lunch came out of my nose...my past came flashing before my eyes those few minutes and I realized how fast time really does go by..and I thought; geez we've had way too much going on already and I was no where near ready for this, yet. 

13 years ago I left a marriage that was like a mixture of UFC matches, Drug Wars ( I didn't know this was going on until much later in the marriage), and Criminal Minds that has left me forever traumatized. I honestly believe that's what his intentions were. I didn't leave without the physical scars, the pain of being mentally broken, or without 3 girls that I had when I was so young who had also been scarred from basically burying their father to a life of prison, drugs, alcohol, and abusive behavior toward their mom. 

If you are a woman and have to do any of the following- you are in an abusive relationship, no matter what you think, no matter what you say, now matter who knows and who doesn't know, no matter what. When you realize that, from that point on you are responsible for what you endure , what you decide to allow to go on, and what effects that staying in that mess does to your family, your children, yourself. 

⚠️ I remember hiding them from it all and having to stand there and take whatever was coming thru that door when he walked or broke through the front door being high or drunk or just plain mad. 

⚠️I would have to hide what little money I had to pay bills with cause he would come in and take it in the middle if the night just to take dirty skanks out to get high with him when I was the one who cared and the one who worked two jobs and did anything I had to do in order to put food on the table or care for my kids because he didn't,even if that meant breaking the law myself. 

⚠️There was a night that I was so close to death- I remember as I was gasping for air -I got the strength to fight back- and I did numerous times, but yet there were times after that-his words and actions still controlled me.I don't know why his words did-but they did; 

and that was what I had became used to. 

⚠️ Statements such as these- 

⚠️"Courtney, nobody will ever want you; you have 3 kids, 3 of MY kids," he would say. I never could understand how he could hurt the only one who cared about him THEN. When someone tells you that so many times, you start to believe it.

I eventually divorced and went on with my life; in fear at times in the beginning. I slept with a bat under my bed and a knife under my pillow for years, and with one eye open just cause of the statements he made, " if I can't have you, nobody will." He never, ever said "I want to see my girls, or I want to be a Dad and straighten up." 

Long story short- 

‍‍My family did not raise me to put up with that, I was raised to be sweet, caring, and loving. If my Dad were alive at that time-he wouldn't have been.

I was a young girl who had her whole life ahead of her. I was manipulated by an 18 year old man that "I believed loved me" at the age of 14, and controlled from that point on.

 I should have NEVER been allowed to date him. 

I should have NEVER gave so many chances.

 I should have NEVER trusted the "I won't do it again."

 I NEVER  trusted anyone again period. 

From that experience, I grew cold, mean, and haven't trusted anyone as far as I could throw them. The trauma from that marriage has made me insecure, angry, and bitter. If anyone even tries to grab my hands or acts like they are cornering me the "fight or flight reaction" kicks in and I feel sorry for the one standing in my way cause it's a mission to destroy them until I'm out of the corner and to get passed you. That's why I try to walk off when my space is invaded. 

I have raised girls that are warriors; they don't ever back down from nobody, they speak their mind, and what's on their hearts, the older two have lived daily worrying about their mom when they were little because I didn't gather the courage and kept to myself about what was going on. I didn't want to tell my family, didn't want to hurt them, disappoint them, or burden them. I am thankful my youngest girls has no recollection cause she was so young. These girls are never going to be a victim of anyone in this lifetime. 

Fast forward to today: 

12 of the past 13 years he has been incarcerated. He was released Monday, and I just haven't decided how I feel about it yet, I'm not ready for the uneasy feelings my children will get when they run into him with flashbacks like I have even thinking about this. 

Brian adopted my girls while he was in prison. Brian has and always will be the Dad that loves them, that raises them, that leads them in life. I have a Husband that loves me and would walk across fire for us!! I am forever thankful God spared my life that night I was so close to death...or I wouldn't be here to spend my life with the man I love and the beautiful children we share️️

Last but not least- DO NOT BE THE WOMEN OF SILENCE. I see you at the store, at work, at the ballpark, at the gas station, at my kids school, at the courthouse, at the church in the pew with your heads down afraid to look up, with the bruises on your arms or your legs, the black eyes, the way you are put last, the way you work your butt off while he parties, how he works for just himself and buys what he wants, and you aren't cared for, adored, or cherished, or even loved, the way you carry yourself in a life of violence isn't a secret!! 

IF you are a Mom, Wife, Girlfriend in this type of situation, leave. It doesn't get any better. He is  not sorry and he doesn't love you. You will realize that once you get to experience life outside of that dark hole you are in.

Giving a person like this a second chance is no different than you handing him a second bullet, a second punch, a second kick, a second chance to break you down more and eventually kill you.

I understand people forgive and end up back in the relationship. That's the start of something you will regret. "I stayed for the kids" is a ridiculous excuse for the life of hell you will put them through. 

A lot of people would say "it's the past."

People's past behaviors ultimately create their future. You either end up being who you are told you are by someone else; or you decide to be what you believe you can be in life. 

Don't be a woman after 13 years that has to decide if forgiveness is acceptable. I am one who tries to lead my children to forgive. I have always been burnt when I forgave others so, it prevents me from moving forward. Forgiveness doesn't mean to be friends with, talk to, be around, or forget what has happened; I do believe that if someone wants to be truly forgiven by you, they ask for it. 

My point is: 

Be a better you. Don't let some punk control who you are, or what you will be in life. Don't be another statistic in this world, be a survivor.

Let them live a life of what they deserve by losing you to someone you deserve. You deserve happiness, to be loved, to be cherished, to be wanted. 

 

Recap: Storytelling Workshops

Sue Schmidt Teaches the Art + Science of Storytelling

We were so excited to welcome Sue Schmidt, storytelling expert best known for her work with The Moth and Say It Forward Productions, as she hosted two storytelling sessions in preparation for the 2018 Take Steps in Their Shoes event.

A major part of this day, taking place on October 6, is the sharing of true stories by those impacted by domestic violence. Whether directly or indirectly, as a survivor, a loved one or someone who joins the journey in a professional capacity, everyone’s story is unique – and everyone’s story is important.

For those who were unable to attend the workshops, keep reading to learn what Schmidt had to say about this vital craft and how to really make a story come alive.

Schmidt specializes in Moth-style storytelling, named after the national stage production. This means stories are true, starring the speaker as the main character, and are delivered without notes for a more genuine and personal approach.

In Moth-style stories:
-          Facts matter – Altering details for security purposes is fine, but non-fiction is a must

-          Safety comes first – Due to the personal nature of the Take Steps in Their Shoes event, keeping the speaker safe is vital; this might mean authors have someone else read a story or certain parts ultimately need to be omitted to ensure identities of those at risk are secured

-          Hopeful messages are powerful – The event is intended to showcase the incredible strength of those affected by domestic violence – our lives may have been touched by the issue, but we don’t let it define us. We’re working for social justice and social change – and inspiring others through our own pieces

Our stories will focus on the journey – the changes to one’s life and showing that we can overcome

So… where to start?

Remember that:
-          Human brains are wired for connection – a well-told story can pull in someone who hasn’t had the same experiences by drawing common ground and interweaving relateable elements. Set up stories in a way that listeners can connect the dots and they’ll be more engaged.

Elements of a story:

Setup

Characters – YOU! Who else is there? What is their role?
Setting – Where are you? Describe the time in your life, the time in history, in the world

Desire

What does the main character want? Why is it so important?
For example, in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wants to go home; other things happen but she doesn’t stray from her ultimate goal

Setback/Conflict

What’s getting in the way of what you want? Why?
-          This could be someone else, the situation you’re in, or yourself standing in the way

Climax

How does the character overcome the setback? What is special about what they (you!) do?

Resolution

What’s the deeper meaning?

-          Note: This is actually the LEAST important part of the story… if all the pieces are laid out in a meaningful way the audience should understand this without being told.

A few things to remember:

-          Show, don’t tell – Transport the audience to wherever your story takes place, using familiar sights, sounds, smells – things they can relate to

-          Use the power of stories for good – To influence others and celebrate your story, because it’s unique and amazing – it’s yours!

-          Move your story forward as you tell it, even if the timeline jumps around

-          Stay on point with the plot

-          Help the listener visualize what YOU most want them to pay attention to

-          Follow the rule of 3: When listing items, stick with three, since people often don’t listen to more than that

-          Emotion is great! And it’s always okay to cry, but if a story makes you too emotional to share, choose something that might be easier

-          Practice, but don’t memorize! The audience can tell the difference, and we want to hear from YOU, not a piece of paper


Page-to-Stage… how does that work?!

Before you even write down your story, just think about it, then – write it all! Edit later, just get it all out.

After that… reflect. Is it clear? Are all the points there? This is where Schmidt comes in to help shape a good story into a great one.

Speaking of… great means your story is:

-          Unique!
o   No one else can truly tell your story the way you can

-          Universal!
o   Even though it is yours alone, help others fully understand your journey by bringing them into it

-          Well-told
o   Let listeners know you’re okay – because you are! You want them to get it, not worry about you as you tell it


Now, let’s add music!

Local band The Brevity Thing will be performing live during the event; they’ll be learning songs chosen by speakers to play in-between stories. This adds a cool extra personal touch


So… what should you do?

You’ve learned about stories, now it’s time to share yours!

Send your stories, either written notes, a full piece, recorded audio or video – whatever works best for you – to Jessie Forand, our Development and Communications Manager, at jessf@stepsvt.org. Also reach out to her if you’re feeling stuck or are unsure where to start… sometimes just talking it out sparks a great idea.

Rough drafts should be sent by Sept. 12, from there speakers will meet with Schmidt on Sept. 17 and 27 (at times to be chosen later, in order to best work with different schedules).

Good luck and we can’t wait to learn more about YOU!

Forgiving Myself

NOTE: The following is a journal entry from a real person. A real survivor.
Please note potential triggers in this important piece. Names have been removed.

 

So, I’m sitting here, thinking about everything. Like how all I ever wanted was to be sure to do for the kids was give them a happy, traditional childhood in a two parent home where they could enjoy life and not ever be forced to grow up too fast.

 

However, I managed to do exactly the opposite. I wanted my white picket fence, team mom life to work out so badly that I allowed myself to be treated as property for years to a man I loved so much, even worse, TRUSTED so much, that I allowed him to take a once blunt, opinionated, tough/no-nonsense young single mom who was content alone, into an obedient housewife who does what she’s told, when she’s told, or will regret it when she gets her ass beat.

 

Hell, who am I kidding, even following every last demand I was getting the dignity and self-respect slapped, kicked, punched and strangled out of me regularly, for no other possible reason than just because he felt like it. I mean, seriously, racked my brain for over a year straight and that’s still all I can come up with…

 

Anyway, because I wanted my kids’ lives to be healthy, happy and normal SO BADLY I was willing to forget everything my single mom taught me, all I had ever stood for, my pride, independence and strength as a woman who stood my ground and took NO SHIT from ANY MAN period. I figured, as long as my babies are happy, have food and shelter and a mom and dad who are committed to raising them together and love them to the moon and back (and more if I could!) but I failed to realize how I can raise happy normal kids when I’m getting beaten bloody at least a couple of times a week and brutally raped so much more than I can admit to myself hardly, much less anyone else, without falling into a deep deep sadness I’m still having trouble being able to snap myself out of.

 

Seriously though, when I can barely look at myself in the mirror because I’m scared to see what’s swollen, busted or bruised now and ashamed AS FUCK in myself for allowing this to become my life. HOW THE FUCK did I expect to raise NORMAL, HAPPY kids when I know they’ve heard their “loving” father tell me I’m worthless and to kill myself a million times. HOW THE FUCK did I expect them to not be forced to grow up when they saw me with tears in my eyes (which I always tried to hide unsuccessfully) more often than not.

 

Also, even though most days I could suck it up and play happy SAHM in typical middle class America there were times my babies couldn’t drag me out of the bedroom and I let G care for them because I simply couldn’t take my son trying to comfort me and asking me not to cry ONE MORE TIME. My four-year-old should not have to always try to make mommy feel better. Sometimes I just stayed locked in the room for days at a time making minimal contact with them for the simple reason of HOW IN THE HELL DO I EXPLAIN MOM’S THIRD BROKEN VESSEL THIS MONTH and of course, two fresh black eyes to go with. God forbid [my son] go to my mom’s family’s and tells them mommy has MORE marks. I mean, surely, the “She was drunk and fell” excuse can’t work THAT often. Oh, wait, it wasn’t that people believed that bullshit. They didn’t give a shit either way. WTF is wrong with people? To this day so many people treat this shit so lightly and I’m over here like, WHY IS THIS MAN NOT IN PRISON? On yea, because he has money so he doesn’t have to pay for his mistakes here. I mean I should’ve put in a load of clothes BEFORE I started dishes. TF was I thinking right? A woman’s gotta know her place. Ha. Fuck [the police]. Fuck bitches who lie about abuse so women like me get called liars too and treated as if I was the problem, oh, and continues to be victimized by her abuser well over a YEAR later. Fuck.

 

GODDAMNIT.

 

Anyway, back to the subject. I was so wrapped up in trying to be the perfect mom for the kids that I forgot part of that is remembering to love yourself so they have a strong, healthy mom who cares enough about herself to properly show her kids how to love themselves and others while caring about being treated with self-respect and dignity instead of as property or trash. I forgot that although they “hardly ever” saw anything that still meant my children had seen their father slap their mom several times and more, too, once or twice. Even just “hardly ever” is WAY TOO FUCKING MUCH for me to have allowed my own children to see. How did I expect them to be truly happy when it makes them sad to see me sad, and I was ALWAYS sad. I could put on a good front but my kids are crazy smart and always knew when I was lying about being ok.

 

Honestly, [my daughter] may still have a shot, it's [my son] I’m most worried for. He has an insane memory. Sadly, the first memory I know he still has retained from July 2015, when he was three, was crying in fetal position in his room while G was trying to smother me on my son’s bed. It was the first time I was ever physically beaten by G. It was the first time I was viciously beaten, unprovoked, without fighting back. I grabbed my son off the floor, put him in the car and left without looking back… for a month.

 

Then I was served papers for FULL CUSTODY of my daughter, but told we can drop the custody papers if I'd just bring me and the kids back home. I fell for it. He promised to get therapy, he'd never do it again. Well, still hasn't gone to therapy and although his "never" lasted for a while, after two months of so-called "bliss" came my second beating. WAY worse than the first.

 

Back to my lovebug, though, let's fast-forward to the very last time [my abuser] will EVER put his hands on me again and live to tell about it.

 

It's the last week of September, 2016. [My daughter] is a week shy from two, she's also in my arms when her dad breaks my nose, leaving her COVERED in my blood, more blood than I'd ever seen. Next thing I remember is waking up to being shoved into the bathtub while he held the shower head directly filling my nostrils and mouth. My head was split wide open, I've got a very deep gash but no idea how it got there other than knowing G did it. When I got myself up from the shower to see my four-year-old son standing in the bathroom doorway, frozen with fear. He also was clearly in the room when my head was split open because if he wasn't I probably still wouldn't know definitively what happened.

 

[My son] went to school in a highly-acclaimed private pre-K I busted my ass to get him in, and told his teachers what happened. His teachers reported it immediately, rightfully so, and they called me at work, had me leave early to come to the office, when I asked what happened, I said I had no clue, which was true, except I denied G had hit me at all that night. I was then asked if I wanted my kids, or I wanted [my abuser]. I said my kids, of course, and then heard the recording of the caseworker asking my son "What happened at home, what happened with your mom?" and heard my sweet baby say, "Well, [my abuser] hit my mommy in the head with a gun, then tried to drown her in the bathtub." Completely calm like that was normal, everyday conversation.

At that moment I realized that my innocent, sweet four-year-old boy had to grow up wayyy too fast, I realized he was too smart for his own good, realized he was now traumatized, going to be riddled with trust issues and become incredibly jaded. At only four years old.


Despite all my intentions to give him the best, carefree and loving childhood possible, I gave him the EXACT OPPOSITE. Truly, G gave him trust issues, PTSD, recurring nightmares and a complete lack of trust in all adult men. Regardless of whether or not I'm actually responsible for my son witnessing his mother being ruthlessly beaten, pistol whipped and drowned (well, he tried) at the hands of the only father he had ever had, the man he absolutely adored and loved so dearly, I still felt guilty anyway. My heart was completely shattered, knowing I couldn't stop it. I couldn't protect my son from earth, [my abuser] solidified that evil was in my VERY OWN HOME. It was sitting at my dinner table, in all my family photos, raising my kids along side of me, even sleeping next to me at night. The one man I ever decided to break all my walls down for, the first man I had ever had full and complete trust and faith in, the man I felt sure I would spend the rest of my life with. I can't describe how awful of a feeling that was.

 

To think that someone I had been friends with since middle school, I had countless memories throughout our lives as we grew into adults, with the man that I had finally fallen for after a decade of him chasing me with no luck. I had built a beautiful family with this man, moved into our first home together and had seemed to have built a near perfect foundation for our already perfect family, yet, the one I truly saw as my partner in life, lover and best friend in the world, the man I thought was too good to be true, well, turned out to be exactly that. There is no blow to the chest quite like losing your other half, best friend, home, stability, confidence, self-worth, the innocence of your children and the gut wrenching truth that he’s always been capable of all this evil and you weren’t any more special than anyone or anything else, ALL AT ONCE.

 

It was like, Jesus Christ, how much more could you possibly betray me? How can you live with yourself knowing you destroyed the people you claim to love most, your own family, your own children? Innocent babies that you raised, loved and fathered.

 

Although I still hurt and keep myself up at night, wondering “What if?” What if I tried harder? What if I was more subservient, or worked on being more in shape? Then I realized that to get over this tragic loss and intense psychological, physical and spiritual pain then I needed to forgive myself and for loving the wrong man and desperately wanting my family to stay together, no matter how unhealthy of a situation it became. I also needed to forgive a man that wasn’t even sorry so I could get rid of all the ugliness that had quickly grown into an unhealthy obsession that filled me with anger and sadness, so I could finally begin to heal and start to build my life back up, and be the productive person and the supportive and loving mother that I know I truly am. I long to be a boring lady who just works and hangs out with her kids like I used to be a year ago. I know I’ve gone on and on but long story short, just because life can be really ugly at times, you can’t forget how beautiful it really is when you focus on what’s important.

 

For me that’s my kids and friends who’ve turned into my surrogate family. Although life has been fucking brutal lately, you’ve got to look at the silver lining to see that these most sad and painful days showed you the only friends that are even worth having. Even people I thought were friends for 15+ years turned out to be snakes once I could no longer contribute to their high or always be able to take everyone out on my dime anymore. When I was just another nobody with nothing all of a sudden they all disappeared. Oh well. Fuck those pieces of shit because in that time other people, some old friends, some new, but all of which loved me unconditionally during the hardest time to love me. Those are my true friends. Quality over quantity. Anyway, as always, everything is as it should be. <3

 

Spilled Milk

Note: The following piece is powerful and important - some may find it triggering.
It is a real story from a real survivor. 

 

Since I’m wondering what I’m doing living with my mother - with 2 kids weeks before my 30th birthday after 10 years plus of independence, I figured I’d just type it out, just to try to make sense of it all. 

So I guess I’ll start at the beginning. 6 years ago. A movie date. In hindsight, probably not the best choice but my radar wasn’t as finely tuned then and my standards weren’t the highest if I’m being honest. Just the existence of his wallet and a vehicle (with EZ pass, girl) made him seem like a catch. He was exciting. New. Mysterious. Which again, had my radar been a little better would have been alarming. But anyway...

It was alluring at the time. He lived an exciting life. Trips, parties, the High life. While I was living my regular little single mom life, working hard to provide a stable environment to my 2-year-old son. Just the fact that he was interested in such a life was incredible to me. It was casual at first. I had strict rules about who and what I allowed into my home because of my son. His father and I split while he was an infant and we had a good but brittle co-parenting relationship. I wasn’t ready to expose him to...anything, really. Let alone this man that I barely knew anything about. Come to think of it, though, NO One knew anything about him. Everyone knew him. But didn’t KNOW him. He was “private”. But again...would later find out the better term was “secretive”. But I was hooked.

And he appeared to be equally smitten. First respecting, then overcoming my strict rules about interacting with my son. Spending time...even if it was a quick “hi” on the back porch. As cliche as it sounds...our relationship blossomed. The sex was amazing, the home cooked meals served adoringly and the nights turned to days turned to weeks. And then we were “a thing”. But he wasn’t ready to give up ALL of his vices. The traveling and partying with his semi famous bestie, but somehow that little bit of unavailability added to the allure. For the most part we had a functional relationship.

I let him in. I think I knew I was a goner when I was attempting to potty train my son-unsuccessfully. HE got him trained. I trusted him with my most cherished possession with the most private task possible. And he nailed it. 

He became controlling possessive-but in little ways that aren’t so little in hindsight, but at the time I liked them. He did things like copied MY house keys and reorganized my closet making room for his belongings... both without any preceding discussion. The 2017 me asks “aren’t these things we should have a conversation about first (and besides Mom would kill me if I gave out her house key)” but 2011 me thought it was endearing and showed how much he desperately wanted to be with me. 

We talked of our family life and adding to it, promptly picked out a cute little house for rent and in the process of moving got a positive pregnancy test. We were over the moon, ecstatic! I went to the Doctor for the routine 8 week work up. “Something is off...maybe your dates”, the doctor said. She decided to order an ultrasound to get a better look, which only confirmed there was an underdeveloped sac in my uterus, a blighted ovum. No baby, and in the most scientific delivery possible, the Doctor said, “you can expect what feels like a painful period and then it will be over”. I was devastated, more than I thought possible considering I never met this “tiny life”. I felt silly because I only learned of what I thought was going to be our baby weeks ago and there I was, on the floor of my Doctors office feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me. And it had. I was completely unraveling and there was no sign of saving me. But he saw this and immediately sprang into action to comfort and console. He spent the entire day catering to my every want and need, making sure I was comfortable, full, and distracted by all my favorite movies. We spent the day on the couch, just being. 

But then night came and he became ... well, weird. His behavior changed a bit, almost distant, and he said he was going to shower. I assumed he was just getting ready for bed, until he began picking out and comparing outfits. I asked where he was going, and this familiar question received an even more familiar response; “out”. Now I was trained to not ask questions ... don’t ask the details of “out” because I trusted him, and if I trust him why does he need to explain himself? He’s a grown ass man (duh!). But considering the circumstances my curious mind wanted to know where could be more important than home with me taking in our loss. Wrong question to ask and it brought out a side of him that I never saw coming. 

He became enraged. He began screaming at me, pinned me down on the couch calling me an insecure bitch, spitting on me as the words flew out of his mouth. Now, my standards might’ve been low(ish) but I’ve never been one to take shit. So I shouted right back that I didn’t think leaving me alone through this was fair, and that earned me the first (of many) smacks to the face. I collapsed. I couldn’t believe after the day we had, clinging to each other over our shared devastation, this was happening. Who was he? Who did he become? 

Immediately he stopped himself and fell to the ground hugging me, apologizing repeatedly and promising it will never happen again. Once I was calm, because that was what his touch had always provided, he slowly disappeared out of sight. Next thing I knew he had picked me up, slowly and intimately undressed and kissed me, then placed me in a warm bubble bath, continuing with his apologies. I ate them all up. I thought the miscarriage caused him to lose control, this was a new type of stress for us and we didn’t know how to deal, surely this won’t happen again. He loves me, he’s sorry. And before the tub was empty, he was “out”. 

This became a cycle. Another positive pregnancy test. Another miscarriage. Another beating. Or was it the other way around? It was a blur, it’s hard to say which of the two came first. We were hosting a Labor Day barbecue and by the end of the day I was a bleeding, sobbing mess on my bathroom floor, another miscarriage. He was supportive, then distant, then violent and back again. But, as always he roped me back in. I couldn’t resist him, I really didn’t want to. And before we knew it I was pregnant again, almost immediately. I was cautiously optimistic as the days, then weeks passed by. Finally I was in the clear, out of the first trimester and moving smoothly along to the second. Excitement was setting in. 

13 weeks and 4 days. I planned a dinner with an old friend...without permission. He had reached a new level of “controlling”, choosing my friends for me. My closest ones either barely made or didn’t make the cut at all, and he had even taken it a step further and hand selected who it was acceptable for me to associate with. The friend I planned to have dinner with was not on that list. 13 weeks 4 days, and he flew into a rage after I found the keys that he hid to prevent me from leaving the house. He chased me outside the house barefoot in the middle of January and grabbed me with both arms around my waist yanking me back into the house. He entwined my hair around his hand to drag me and slammed me into any available surface-walls, doors, floors, then wrapped his hands around my throat, giving me a case of laryngitis...or severed vocal chords ... either one. My voice didn’t return for 6 months. 

I never made it to dinner that night. And I didn’t make it to an obstetrician for another 3 weeks for a scheduled ultrasound. My baby was dead. The one that stuck around until the second trimester. That magical place where the threat of miscarriage drops to less than 10%. The one that had a 90 or better percent chance of being born healthy. My second son. Dead. That dinner was supposed to happen at 13 weeks 4 days. Estimated time of fetal demise? My Doctor said 13 weeks 5 days. 

One would think this was enough for me to run. Right? I had my son to think about. Eventually he would notice Mommy’s bruises and busted lips, and the screaming at night was bound to start waking him up. Maybe not though. I was able to convince coworkers the bruises were from a new blood disorder, and besides I did bruise easy, he never meant to hurt me. I convinced myself it wasn’t that bad, and we could work through it. It just continued to get worse. 

Two months later despite my better judgement (there goes my weak radar again) we were still together, walking on eggshells clinging to yet another pregnancy. By now I was scared ... of him, of my body, of the unknown. I was just frail, not myself anymore. I loved him and wanted him, but I also started wanting ME back. After another series of arguments resulting in strangulation, smacking, spitting, slamming, death threats...the list really just goes on; I felt my pregnancy symptoms fade. Little by little I felt less and less nausea and since I was an expert at this I knew I should still have symptoms at 11 weeks 3 days. I drove myself crazy until I was sitting in my doctor’s office begging for an ultrasound. I never told her of the abuse, just said I was worried because of the previous unexplained miscarriages and to just please please please check. She was a saint. With a sigh she grabbed the Fetal Heart Doppler and started searching for my baby’s heartbeat...and found nothing. After 5 minutes of repositioning and then reapplying she called down to imaging and got me in. She knew. As soon as the ultrasound technician got a clear picture she turned the screen away from my view. She wouldn’t answer my questions. She had tears in her eyes, this was her 5th time going through this with me. The doctor confirmed another miscarriage. 

I was inconsolable. Another baby...gone? But was this a sign? Were we just not meant to be? How does this happen? Maybe this was my way out of the relationship. Along with the sadness came some new, unfamiliar feelings. Relief. Then guilt. Because that’s NOT how losing my 5th unborn child should feel. But that’s what I felt. Relieved. 

In contrast, he finally broke. He was devastated. This one brought him to his knees. He sobbed uncontrollably, demanded answers as to how or why this could possibly happen to us again, insisted we didn’t deserve this type of torture. Fast forward to a few days later. The day of my d&c. Outpatient procedure scheduled for a first thing in the morning. This meant a 6am arrival which required early morning childcare. While getting ready, my son mentioned wanting to bring his pillow with him to go back to sleep at the babysitters. For some reason he opposed. At this point I was seriously wallowing in my own despair and barely holding it together but I needed to maintain some sense of peace for my son, and since the rest of my life was so far out of my control, I was determined to at LEAST control this. My son, my rules; the fucking pillow was packed. I got my son settled on the sitter’s couch (with his damn pillow) and kissing him goodbye, I made my way back to the car. It was like walking the green mile. For multiple reasons. I knew he was seething that I opposed him, and by now the abuse was so routine so I knew what to expect, but I figured considering the circumstances, I’d get a pass this time. Wrong. As soon as I strapped my seatbelt he whipped his hand around my neck and slammed my head into his car window, twice. We drove in silence on the way to the hospital. When we arrived I told him to just drop me off at the entrance. I wanted out, I needed out. 

I suppose we didn’t have enough going on, you know with the abuse and miscarriages and now him totally resenting my son due to the loss of his own(s), not that my son wanted anything to do with him now. Adding to that we had some uninvited guests in our already failing relationship. Infidelities. Plural. Checking his phone had pretty much become a part of my daily routine. Well, seek and you shall find right? He insisted that the conversation I read was actually from when his best friends phone died and he had lent him his for a couple hours. Riiiight. Around my sons 5th Birthday I told him to pack his shit and leave, this wasn’t going to work, he’s not what I want. I’m afraid of him and so is my son. Well, not exactly like that. I took the cowards way out-understandably. I asked for space, mostly blamed the miscarriages. The whole “It’s not you, it’s me” thing. It worked, for the most part. 

That was December. I made it through the holidays and around Valentine’s Day, he started contacting me again. He was sorry, he acknowledged his wrong doings, opened up about the miscarriages, pressure from his job. I resisted, because the cheating was something my pride doesn’t let me tolerate. The abuse I could take, but not another woman (women), which of course he continued to deny. But once he said he wanted to be with my son and I whether we could have a baby or not my guard was right back down and he was back in. I agreed to a date after talking on the phone and texting for a couple weeks. Sure enough, by mid-March we were just about in full swing. We were starting over and doing it right this time. He was once again the man he was when we first started dating! Who am I kidding?! He was better. He turned on all the charms to win me back, and I couldn’t be happier. 

After a few months of what appeared to be him proving to have legitimately changed, we were living together again. I was also (surprise) pregnant again-this time with twins. This was our blessing. I always believed that everything happens for a reason and God obviously handed us that platter of disaster to strengthen us and finally he’s giving us what we deserved. 

Or maybe he was just giving me what I deserved after taking this dude back time and time again. Cramping and Bleeding, heavily, in my first trimester caused panic. A 6th miscarriage, just when things were going well??? He was distraught, we both were. But an ultrasound the next morning confirmed 1 very strong heart beat still present. Baby 2 did not make it through the first trimester. Maybe it was natural selection, the weaker baby-which is common. It could have been my body rejecting him or her. Or maybe it was the beating that came when I asked why his ex was FaceTiming his work phone that was kept locked in his car. I guess we will never know. (yes I DID say things were going well...it could be worse, other people have it worse I’d always tell myself). What I did know is that I was ecstatic to still be pregnant, but nervous that it was only a matter of time before the other baby “disappeared” because I knew I’d do something to set him off. After all of the loss I experienced, I needed this baby. But I was petrified of him, of my body, of the cycle. 

The pregnancy progressed and so did we. Family and date nights became a regular occurrence, there were no fights to speak of, and he was just about flying home to be with us by the end of his work days. Things were what should be considered “normal”. The further along the pregnancy progressed the stronger our connection became. I started second guessing the problems in our relationship, blaming myself for all of our previous fights. With his help, I convinced myself that my insecurities stressed him to the max and pushed him away causing such a volatile climate. But hold up, this man was actively cheating and had the nerve to say I was insecure ... and my actions drove him to the above...I digress. At the time, I ate it up. 

Our relationship reached a new level of comfort. We had never been more bonded to one another. He was even mentioning marriage and all the ways he’d profess his love for me at our wedding. It was basketball season so he had to work late...a lot. The kids and I made our expected appearances at his games. Really just making our presence known since he was too “private” to do so himself. 

In spite of many complications and concerns, 40 weeks of fear, we gave birth to a perfect, healthy daughter. He was elated and we quickly outgrew our house. Shortly after my daughter was born we upgraded to a beautiful home in a suburban neighborhood. This allowed more space for the kids to play, a humongous yard and best of all a better school district for my son who was starting 2nd grade. Image was everything to him and we looked good. Perfect home and family, gainful employment, we should’ve been all set. Then some familiar unpleasantries started to pop up. Basketball season required late nights, which I understood. But basketball season ended and his late nights didn’t. As any exhausted mom would, I pointed out his absence and requested more help around the house and with the kids. I’ll let you guess what his response to that was. At one point he tackled my tiny frame onto my daughter’s pack and play, bending the metal bar with my back and then proceeded to shake and strangle me until I was choking on blood from the tooth that cut through my lip. I needed stitches but I didn’t go. How could I explain that? My entire body was covered in bruises, my lip doubled in size, and more red fingerprints stained around my neck. When asked what happened, I said I slipped getting out of the shower. My stories weren’t even believable. 

We were both too stubborn to walk away. I think we might’ve believed that finally having a child together meant we needed to “work through our issues”- issues being infidelity and abuse, neither of which he was showing signs of slowing or stopping. There was enough space between his attacks for me to regroup, blame myself for saying or doing something I shouldn’t have, and convince myself that if I changed my behavior, his organically would too. The more I silenced myself in search of what he wanted me to become the more comfortable he was overpowering my being. I became a shadow of who I was before him, before this. 

I guess a month or so had passed before I got the nerve to ask another touchy question ... (it’s alarming to think of how much I accepted then to avoid a fight). After a trip through his text messages, I asked exactly who was supposed to be reporting to his office to be bent over his desk. It was terribly confusing since the messages appeared to be from his best friend, but of course, when I dialed the number it was not his voice that I got. “She” wouldn’t give her name but was terribly sorry, that he told her we hadn’t been together since before the baby. In our 5 years together this is the first time I actually caught him. Any other time was hearsay and he had an arsenal of excuses that I mostly believed (I had to for my sanity). This time there was hard evidence. No denying it. No excuses. He cheated. I confronted him with the question of “who” and began to tear apart his closet, removing as much of his clothing and shoes from the closet as I could. While doing this I talked the most shit, calling him every type of bitch that existed. Talked about how he was gonna get the fuck up out of my house TONIGHT, even if we went half on bills now...I put down the $4k to move in (draining my entire paltry retirement savings). Having his clothes out of the closet wasn’t enough. I began cutting zippers out of pants ... they were of no use to him anyway, snipped the tongues out of his shoes, then I took my pile of liberation and began chucking everything neatly(ish) across our beautifully manicured lawn. This obviously sent him over the edge. Gripping my throat he single-handedly tossed me back into the house and onto the floor, climbed on top of me, pinning me down and strangling me. All I heard him keep saying was that I was going to die tonight. I was convinced I was. All of this commotion woke my daughter. 

My son was at his dads so I figured once I got my daughter settled and back to sleep we would finish what had just started. As I sat on the couch with my daughter he started going off about not leaving and paying bills too. I wasn’t budging, cheating is my limit and working it out was a definite no. I was positive I was done. My response was simple. I reiterated that he needed to go, I was sorry about his clothes and shoes but he just couldn’t be here anymore. I wasn’t nice about it, I also wasn’t sad about it and I wanted him out. Well that wasn’t an option, he informed me that he wasn’t leaving and that we’d fix it now or die together. These were the threats that didn’t scare me, they should’ve considering how many times I could’ve died in the course of being strangled or having my head slammed into windows, walls, doors etc., but they didn’t. I don’t fully remember what happened leading up to him running and grabbing the knife but before I could move he was there pointing it at me. This was different. He never got this close to me with a knife, and I’m holding our daughter. I immediately realized he was in a new space, one we hadn’t reached before. He had the sharp of the knife pushing into my bellybutton, I started begging, pleading with him to stop, promised to drop it and pretend it never happened. With a look I’ve never seen before he cocked back and plunge. 

Somehow I miraculously blocked the knife from penetrating my stomach with the hand not holding my daughter. Blood was spraying everywhere and began steadily pumping out, he had sliced through my middle finger right down to the bone. He was in shock, just stood there holding the knife. Not me, I immediately began instructing him to get a kitchen towel to apply pressure to the wound, and to call 911 because I could see my bone and blood was pumping out so quickly I was afraid he pierced a vein. Once he called 911 I told him to hurry up and grab some Clorox wipes to clean up the blood spatter. I wiped the blood off my daughter’s forehead while she sat on my lap. She didn’t cry, just watched. I had already called my best friend, I needed someone to sit with my daughter while I went to the hospital. She should be here in a few. I made sure he knew that the story was, “I was washing our new knife set”. Clearly that explains why the entire knife set had toppled over, spread across the entire counter and floor. 

The ambulance located .5 miles away was taking longer than expected. I asked him to call back because my hand was going numb. He said they’d be there and just kept muttering about what happened to HIM- “I’m going to jail, my life is over ... why would you grab the knife?!.”- Well no, you aren’t going to jail. I’d have to actually be smart enough to press charges, and I grabbed the knife? Why did I grab the knife? Did I do this?! All serious questions I was asking myself. I called 911 back and the dispatcher said they never got a call. Never. Got. A. Call. He never called, staged an entire call to 911. Good Lord I swore I was going to die. He must’ve called my daughters God parents (these were people that I grew to love but were from his side) because they showed up right after my friend and the EMT’s. It was obvious I needed stitches and my friend agreed to take me to avoid running up a bill I couldn’t pay with the ambulance. He snuck out right behind the EMT’s, my daughter’s god parents stayed with my daughter, and off to the hospital we went. The whole drive there I was sick, completely disheveled, shaking and shivering over everything that just transpired. 

Lying to the hospital staff in front of my friend was especially difficult. I routinely lied to her about the source of all the bruises and fat lips, not that she’d ask. We’d known each other since we were kids, so she knew I wasn’t nervously biting my lip to the point it swelled as I told her I had, and she also knew there was no blood disorder to speak of. If anything this confirmed all that she had mentally questioned before and I knew that. We didn’t speak about it. But I was finally done with him so I didn’t need to hide this from her. She even went along with my lie about washing the new knife set, not that anyone believed it. This was too fucked up to fix. 

14 hours later he was back home. I didn’t even resist. I needed him to be sorry, for the cheat(s) more than anything. I thought the more resiliency I showed to his violence, the more he’d understand how unconditionally I loved him. Sticking around through that was how I showed him my dedication, my unwavering love. I would love him through this pain until it didn’t hurt anymore. I accepted all the apologies and even offered my own. After all, I was the one that grabbed the knife, he wasn’t REALLY going to stab me, right? We were “fine” for about a week and then things really started to unravel. Well they continued to, rather, just more aggressively, I guess.

Conversation was strained to the point of almost nonexistence. For the most part we didn’t talk at all unless we happened to be in the house at the same time and even then it was just a quick, “can you sit with the baby” or “your plate is in the microwave” (yes I was still feeding him, I just wanted shit to be “normal” again). Text updates, check-ins and quick “hi” phone calls stopped entirely. Somehow I was clinging to him more than I ever had. I still craved and even begged for his attention. It was sick-almost like an addiction. A habit I couldn’t (wouldn’t) kick. We still pretended to enjoy sex with one another but I usually had other things on my mind the whole time. Little things like where exactly his dick spent its time during the day, who the woman was that he was bending over his desk, was he even there with me or was he fantasizing about “her”-or even worse a different “her”. Still, I refused to let this fail.

By this time things, had come to a boil with my son and he began confiding in his school social worker-a nice lady working in a very suburban (translation: with almost no racial diversity) school. She called me a couple times with concerns (most of which she had likely never encountered, but secretly expected from us), all of which I brushed off as him being a sensitive kid and not liking or understanding even the slightest conflict. I described the conditions in my home as minor and being addressed, knowing full well they weren’t. Back then I thought my son was oblivious to what was happening-at least that’s what I told myself. He was only 4... (then 5 and 6). But ushering him into his room right before I tasted blood wasn’t protecting him from anything. I know he heard the screaming and house shaking. He wasn’t oblivious at all. I was making MYSELF oblivious to his awareness. He’s always been smart, curious and intuitive. Of course he knew. I am just now imagining how afraid he must have been. He began talking about God. Saying prayers. Having nightmares. Well, shit, he was living a nightmare. It’s so hard for me to realize how terrified he must have been with visions of his mother dying constantly in his head. I didn’t protect him. My one job as his mother was making my son feel safe. And I was failing miserably.

The phone calls from the school happened more frequently and it terrified me. I had no choice but to admit to some of the accusations, letting the social worker know things were indeed out of hand but that I was working on alternate living arrangements. Either he was leaving or I was leaving and I’d update soon. He decided he was staying put, so I started apartment hunting. I called and saw a few, but then my daughters God mother let me know about an apartment I could get into within the next week. Out of courtesy I’d let him know I found something-even though it wasn’t yet solidified. Maybe this was when he’d be sorry, and really mean it. This is when we would fix things, right before we lose it all. He was non-plussed. He acted like I told him the sun came out that day. Unaffected. I was disappointed at his lack of reaction and then disgusted with myself at how pathetic I became. All of my happiness and security was dependent on him. Not myself or my accomplishments, not my two beautiful children but this man who didn’t value an ounce of my being.

On Black Friday I planned to drop the kids off at daycare and get some shopping done. Before leaving the house, I had made arrangements to meet with the new landlord. I guess his lack of reaction at the initial mention of moving out was him calling my bluff. He knew me well enough to know that when I mentioned it before I was just testing the waters, but the fact that I was really taking action and going through with this threw him off. I loaded the kids up in the car and was in the process of strapping my daughter in when he jumped into the driver’s seat and put the car in reverse, stomping on the gas. I was barely able to make it into the car and shut the door before he took off down our driveway. He was yelling that we were all going to die together, I tried pleading with him while holding on to both of my screaming babies. I sneak texted
one of my closest friends and told her what was happening, gave her my location and asked her to please be on alert. I told him the cops were on their way. They weren’t, of course as I instructed my friend not to call and I knew she wouldn’t. Somehow I was still protecting him while he was driving maniacally and threatening me and my children’s lives. Remembering and retelling this story, I hate that version of myself, she was weak and pathetic. Finally the car was stopped in our driveway and he got out of the car without a word. I couldn’t move. I just sat in the backseat hugging my babies. My son was shaking, this had to end now. 

But of course it wouldn’t. He emerged from the house with a knife to his own neck, standing in the doorway of the garage. Crying and saying he would stab himself in the neck if I broke up our family. Because obviously I was the one who broke up our family. Not the man who barely acknowledged my existence since he got caught cheating, who only touched me sexually or violently but no longer intimately, who resented my first child and took away 6 of my babies. It was all my fault. And he was going to kill himself if I left. Truth be told, he was going to kill me if I stayed … and if he didn’t I might’ve done it myself. I reached a new low the time I considered starting the car and not opening the garage door. I was tired. Not just energy drained tired. I was physically, mentally and emotionally mangled and I reached my “enough is enough”. The only way I could be what my children needed was to force myself out of this miserable and dangerous cycle. I left, mostly because I knew without question my son was going to report that whole incident to his school and my children would’ve surely been ripped from their home. I was not providing a safe living environment. That fear saved us. Good parents make better decisions than I was, and I wanted to be a great parent. We left and never looked back. It’s been 362 days since I signed a lease and fled. A couple of affordable apartments in very undesirable neighborhoods failed for various reasons and here I am, back at my mom’s house. Reflecting, counting my blessings that we survived this ordeal and eating a serious slice of humble pie. We are continuing to work on co-parenting our daughter, and have made strides but still have a long way to go. He doesn’t quite get the concept but we will get there. Thanks to my unrelenting (read: foolish) love, his life and career remained unharmed and unchanged, and he has even had some new successes as there are no police reports detailing any of our past. I, on the contrary am beginning the difficult process of rebuilding mine and my children’s shattered lives from the ground up. Changed careers, learned and began changing things about myself, raised my fucking standards for men, reestablished some sort of trust and normalcy for my son, set some goals for myself and wrote my story.

If given the opportunity, I’m sure he would tell a very different tale. He wouldn’t tell of the beatings, only of my insane jealousy, my desperation to keep him home at all times, the times I’d block the door to keep him from leaving and he had no choice but to defend himself, the times I packed his clothes up after he “fell asleep at his moms” or some other fantasy he would try to feed me. And it’d be true. Because I was a fighter. And I was fighting for us. I was fighting for his love. I was fighting to NOT be what we were. What I was. It’s funny how there are so many different versions of the truth. My version includes scars-both physical and emotional, falsified medical records, and dead babies, though. This is MY truth.

Registration is open - Take Steps in Their Shoes 2018!

How to register for Take Steps in Their Shoes 2018 and start your fundraiser

 

It’s back! Take Steps in Their Shoes, our major fundraising event, returns on Saturday, October 6, and we are so excited to announce that registration is now OPEN.

The cost to participate is $35 – that fee will grant you access to walk with us, attend the after-party at ArtsRiot, listen to the powerful survivor storytelling session and bid on really cool items in the silent auction.

BUT – that’s not all! Those who register are also highly encouraged to host their own online fundraiser. Trust us, it is super easy to do, and a lot of fun. This is your opportunity to talk about why you’re participating and what you want to share with others about the fight to end domestic violence.

Are you not around on October 6? We’ll miss you, but that’s ok… you can still donate and hold a fundraiser!

Keep reading to learn about the few easy steps to get up and running:

 

1. Visit the official Take Steps in Their Shoes website: www.stepsvt.org/take-steps

 
2.
Click “REGISTER/FUNDRAISE”


3. This will take you to our Givelively profile – they are safe, secure and really great to use.


4. Register for $35 or donate the amount you’re able to if you can’t participate in person.


5. Click “I want to fundraise for this” – enter in your own story, and share!

That’s it! Couldn’t be quicker or easier.

Please note, though, that your friends can register through your personal page ONLY if they select the register button - those who choose the "I can't make it on Oct. 6" option are not considered registered to attend, though their donation will still make a huge difference! 

If you get stuck, email our Development and Communications Manager Jessie Forand at jessf@stepsvt.org or call her at (802) 658-3131 X 1063 – she created her own fundraiser already and can help walk you through it.

Sign up, share out and we’ll have a great time on October 6!

He didn’t like the strong and independent woman I became

This is a real story, from a real survivor. Please note potential triggers in this piece.


I was so happy when I found someone who was so good to me. I fell for him instantly and we were engaged before our one-year anniversary. Things were falling into place after moving to a new state. I was never this happy...

...and then to have the person who you share a life with just turn on you.

I was so excited when he took me to the city to see the sights only to find out that we went deep into the city so he could meet his drug dealer. I was so angry and scared.

I wasn’t sure what to think the first time he yelled and punched a hole in the wall next to my face. I think I was just in shock.

I told his parents what he did to me. They talked to him the first time but after that they wouldn’t talk to him anymore. They just accepted his behavior. He was a spoiled only child. His Dad abused his mother. She stayed with him all these years. Like father like son! My ex husband was just like his father an alcoholic.

He never hit me, came close multiple times. It was more yelling, grabbing, pushing, and threatening me with weapons. His temper got worse when he was drinking and doing drugs. I was truly scared and worried that he might really hurt or kill me.

I heard so many “I love you,” “I’m sorry it will never happen again,” “ please forgive me”

After I caught him doing drugs again is when he pulled a gun on me. I just stood in shock and after he left I just fell to the floor and cried.

“The control an abuser has over a victim is very strong”

My life was gone living with him and I did what he wanted when he wanted. It was only when I stood up to him that he hurt me. But I felt so much stronger when I stood up to him. I knew when to be quiet and not escalate the problem.

After arguing with him I went to church. It was a safe place I knew he wouldn’t follow me to. I cried and met with a priest. I never wanted to go home I always found a place to disappear to for a while.

It was hard sleeping in the same room not knowing if I would wake up the next day. We went to therapy to try and work things out but he blamed me for everything. Not one thing could be his fault and after years of being together he didn’t like the strong and independent woman I became.

He hated the fact that I wouldn’t wait on him. He expected everything to be handed to him on a silver platter and not work for anything. After years of being hurt, threatened and scared I thought this couldn’t be it.

So many people asked me “Why didn’t I leave sooner” People don’t understand how difficult it is to just walk away. It’s very dangerous and sometimes impossible.

Why stay and live this life. I made the hardest decision and left him. I wanted so much for my life and wasn’t sure I’d survive to live that life.

He knew lots of people and was friends with a neighbor who was a cop. I knew my options were limited and going to the police or a shelter was not the option for me.
I knew him well and that was to my advantage. I planned my escape for months and moved out of state. It took along time for me to get my life back!

My life now is great! My ex husband is no longer around to hurt me. I’m completely safe!
There is a part of me that will never forget. I still have fears that I’m working to overcome, but each day is better.

I’m a survivor and hoping that people in similar situations can realize that there is always a way out! You don’t have to live your life scared.
 

To share your story, click here.

I need to go home

NOTE: The following could be a true story. It could be any of us. And in fact, we are currently working to help someone afford a plane ticket to flee abuse and reconnect with their support system out of state.

What we need is you – if you’re able to help, even with $25, please visit our donate page and be sure to include AIRPLANE in the comments so we know how to use it.

UPDATE: The person who inspired this story has made it home! And we have created an earmarked fund specifically to help with travel issues - be they a tank of gas or a plane ticket - as they arise. Contribute to that any time by listing TRANSPORTATION FUND on the memo of your donation. 

 

I never planned to live here.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful. The leaves in the fall, the snow, the sometimes-sunny days.

But this wasn’t my choice.

When we met, he swept me off my feet. I’ve always protected my heart, but something in my gut told me he was different. After months and months of talking about it, we decided moving here was the best thing for us. But soon after, us turned into him.

We’ve all read about power and control, but until you’ve lived it you just can’t understand. I have no friends, I have no family. Not here anyway. We do what he wants to do, when he wants to do it. If I object, there goes the rest of the day.

“I brought you here, you should be grateful.”

“They never cared about you anyway.”

“Without me you’re nothing.”

Deep inside I know these things aren’t true. But after hearing them so many times, it’s hard to remind myself of that.

Isolation is one of the most common ways abusers control us. By making us feel alone, and over time creating a reality around that, they insert themselves as our only option. Without them we can’t buy groceries, can’t make rent, the list goes on and on… and on.

And my support system, my "people," they're so far way.

Getting home is all I want, all I need. I secretly look up plane ticket prices. Flight times. Layovers. But… his name is on the bank account. It would be easier that way, he said, I obviously would have access to everything. But I don’t.

My parents try to help, they really do. But they’re not wealthy. Besides, he checks the mail, not me. If they sent money, I don’t really think I’d ever know.

We Skype sometimes, but we’re never truly alone. They worry, I tell them not to. I want to protect them, and I want to go home to them. To pretend this never happened and just start fresh.

But… I can’t afford it.

Help me get home

Interning at Steps to End Domestic Violence

Bessie, Development and Communications Intern, here! Today is my last day interning at Steps, and I am feeling some type of way. As I gear up for graduation, I have a lot to be thankful for, but one of the things I am most thankful for is the opportunity to work with such an empowering organization.

At the risk of sounding totally cliche: when I initially applied to intern at Steps, I felt like I was supposed to be here; it made sense to me that I should be helping those who have been made to feel small because I have been made to feel small myself -- both as a woman and as a survivor of teen domestic violence. Still, I didn’t know then what a huge impact this experience would have on me both professionally and personally.

I have learned so much about domestic violence - about the signs to look for, about its commonplace, its impact, and about the resources and support systems out there for folks who have been affected by DV. My own misconceptions have been cleared up, and I’ve learned how to talk about domestic violence--with my friends, with young people, with survivors, and with my community. I have learned so much about DV, but I’ve learned about myself, too, and I’m walking away with an overwhelming sense of gratitude toward everybody I connected with along the way.

One of my responsibilities in this role was to correspond with survivors to help them share their stories. I will admit I was nervous about reaching out to survivors; how do you ask somebody to share some of the most traumatic and heartbreaking moments of their life with you? To be vulnerable in this way is one of the most courageous acts I know, and it has been an absolute honor working with these lionhearted people.

I have been so in awe of these survivors’ resilience, openness, and determination to empower others while healing through writing. So to the survivors I connected with: I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing your experience with me and with our community. Your voice matters, and you have made a difference.

I have seen just how vital a resource Steps to End Domestic Violence is, and I am so thankful to all who have kept its doors open. I am so glad to have been a part of this organization even for such a short amount of time, and I encourage everybody to support an organization whose mission they can stand behind.

There are over 4,000 nonprofits in Vermont alone so get involved--donate a meal, volunteer to be a hotline advocate, be a mentor, go to a benefit concert. I promise it will change your life for the better and more importantly: you WILL make a difference.

I am better for this experience, and I will always be an advocate. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

The Rollercoaster

The following piece was written by a survivor to empower those affected by domestic violence. Please note potential triggers. 

So, you’re out! You’re either in a shelter, at a family or friends house, or maybe even the hospital. But, this time you know you aren’t going back. Whether it was, emotional, financial, physical abuse, or all three- you have escaped. The abuse has lasted for years, or this may be the first time- regardless you should feel so relieved, right? Don’t feel bad if you don’t, this is a perfectly normal feeling, in a long, confusing list of emotions you will experience and question as you put the pieces of your life back together.

For many, leaving is the most difficult and terrifying thing a victim will do, even more terrifying than living with an abuser. With your abuser, you often knew what to expect. You may have identified a pattern, cycle, or triggers that you knew would set off the abuse. But, now that you are out- life is far more unpredictable. While each person has different situations, some have children, pets, no money, no place to go, or family to call. Each victim will feel the same feelings and emotions, not necessarily in the same sequence, degree, or amount of time- but each victim takes a ride on the emotional roller coaster.

Some are scared, unsure where they will sleep, afraid of retaliation from the abuser, and fearful that they can’t make it on their own. You may be worried, not just about yourself and your children, but what about him? Is he in jail, is he suicidal again, is he furious at you? You may also be angry - angry at yourself for worrying about him, or for staying as long as you did. Angry at him for putting you in the position you are in, letting you down, or hurting you. You may feel sad, for so many reasons, maybe you had to leave your house and your belongings and uproot yourself and possibly your children into a shelter or an unfamiliar environment. You may be sad because your kids no longer have a two-parent home, or you miss your abuser, because not all times were bad. Ending an abusive relationship is like breaking up on steroids. Just like other relationships, you suffer the loss of love, the loss of hope you had for the future, and then you get mad at yourself for missing someone who hurt you so much.

Some days will be better than others. Some days you will want to go back, but reminding yourself that things don’t change, that you deserve better, and remembering why you left in the first place- can help you get through the day. Every day starts over, with support, self-care, surrounding yourself around others who understand what you have been through, and learning to love yourself again, the roller coaster will begin to slow down. You are not alone, shelters, hotlines, counselors, medication, groups, and a wide variety of community resources are available for the sole purpose of helping victims take back their lives.

The Dangers of Strangulation

The following piece was written by a survivor of domestic violence to educate others about the dangers of strangulation within intimate partner relationships. Please note potential triggers. 

Things got physical again, this time it was a little different, or maybe it was something that had happened before. During the struggle he grabbed your neck, it scared you- you were worried that you may die. You don’t think you passed out, and he said he only choked you a bit, there were no marks afterwards- so maybe he was right, you over-reacted? You feel like there is no reason to call the police or go to the hospital- if there are no marks then there is no injury, and no one would believe you anyways, right? Your throat is a little hoarse, but it only lasts that way for a bit. Just like previous times, he apologizes, and you believe him that it won’t happen again. Like millions of other victims who have gone through similar situations, you let it go…but what you don’t know, could very well end up killing you.

Through strangulation, a strong message can be portrayed by the abuser. Most victims fear for their lives, yet when the abuser lets go, the victim is often assured that if the abuser wanted to kill them he would have. Strangulation is one of the most dangerous forms of control in a domestic violence relationship. The abuser is able to prove to the victim that not only do they have control over their lives, but over every breath they take. They have the ability to take the victims life, and the fear and risk often creates a submissiveness in the victim that encourages the abuser to continue to use the tactic in future incidents.  

What most victims don’t know, is that when an abuser grabs their neck, puts them in a choke hold, or covers their mouth so they are unable to breath, they are being strangled, not choked. Choking happens from inside, when you choke on food or a foreign object, it blocks your passage of breathing. Once the object is out, you can breathe again, with little difficulties.  However, strangling also stops the ability for air to escape your body, but includes many more risks, ones that can occur long after the strangulation ends.

Often one of the first things victims (and abusers) do after a physical incident is check for injuries. However, only 50% of those that have been strangled show any sign of external injuries, and of those 50% that do, 15% of them can’t even be seen using a camera. Those that do show visible signs have neck bruising or “Petechiae spots” (small spots that can show on the victim’s neck, earlobes, and scalp). Often these are so light or hidden from view that they are rarely noticed. The lack of marks give both the victim and the abuser a false sense of risk and potential injury. So many people believe in the fact that if you can’t see something, then it isn’t serious.  

It is the internal impacts of strangulation that most victims, and even trained first response professionals are not aware of. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, some common symptoms of strangulation include; a sore or hoarse throat, difficulty breathing, ringing ears, dizziness, nausea, agitation, PTSD, sleep problems, and vision problems (temporary or permanent). In addition, the lack of oxygen can cause miscarriages, loss of consciousness, memory loss, incontinence (meaning that your organs have begun to fail), injuries to your larynx or arteries- which can lead to dissected arteries, blood clots, stroke, and ultimately immediate or delayed death.

Non-fatal strangulation is becoming an important topic of medical research, professional training, and legal changes. The National Domestic Violence Hotline says that 1 out of 4 women will experience domestic violence within their lifetime, out of those-  67% will experience non-fatal strangulation. Loss of consciousness and death can occur within minutes, making strangulation one of the biggest predictors of domestic violence homicide. Victims are ten times more likely to die by the hands of their abuser, once a victim is strangled, it is common for the strangulation to continue and worsen. Victims rarely seek or are able to seek medical attention after being strangled, resulting in irreversible injuries and increased fatalities. It is imperative that all victims, regardless of the lack of visible wounds find a way to seek medical attention, and explain all details and symptoms of the strangulation.



 

New Toothbrush

The following story was written by a supporter of Steps to End Domestic Violence. Please note potential triggers in this piece.

Every nine seconds a woman in the United States is assaulted or beaten. I wasn’t going to wait another nine to get out of that house. 69% of family violence against a son or daughter takes place at the victim’s home. Like the rest of the 40% of family violence victims that don’t report the incident to the police, I instead arranged to stay at my boyfriend’s parents’ house for a few days to get out of dodge.

“Try to have a level-headed conversation with your mom. Explain that your house isn't a safe place anymore and that you need to spend some time away for everyone to cool off. I’ll meet you at the end of your driveway in fifteen minutes.” My father had taken my phone, computer, and power (having pulled the breaker to my room), so we were relying on one short phone call to make it all work smoothly. Of course it didn’t.

I haphazardly packed a bag for the next few days, went downstairs at 4pm for the first time since the night before, and walked into my mother’s office. I knew it was the perfect time - a contractor was inspecting the outside of the house with my father - there couldn’t be a scene. “Mum, I’m leaving the house for a few days. It isn’t safe -” “NO!” she screamed. “You stay right there, you aren’t walking out this door.” My fight or flight instinct revved, and I was out the door before she could stand up. She clawed at my arms, leaving red welts and spilling my toothbrush onto the tiled foyer floor that I’d hit just as hard the night before. I felt ungainly, childish, as I ran to the end of the driveway and stopped, panicked, hoping that at any minute John’s black four-runner would come over the top of the hill. But with a growing sense of dread I knew he wasn’t coming. Not for another ten-odd minutes, because we had allowed for a level-headed conversation.

“Liam! Liam!” my mother screamed, and I wasn’t waiting around for him to come around the corner of the barn. I bolted down the street, no idea where I was going. There he was, right behind me, asking in a sickly sweet fatherly voice, “Where are you going hun?”. Where was I going? I started pacing at the entrance to the state forest, waiting in desperation for that car. “I’m leaving, I can’t be here, it’s not safe…” The words gushed out like a mental patient’s rant. I was crying, I was shaking, I was so confused. “Why don’t you come home?” Why the fuck do you think I’m not coming home? I was dead-armed, aching, welted, scared.

I wasn’t thinking. “Why would you run into the woods of all places?” John asked. I suppose it was because the woods have always been a safe place to me, full of friends and beauty. I jogged pitifully down the path, shaking and screaming and telling him to stay back. All those packs of cigarettes made it slow going. He skipped behind me. When I ran, he ran, and when I walked, he walked. Taunting me with memories of better times, he crooned: “Come on, let’s make some tea and talk about it. Where are you going? Hun, you know there are repercussions when you stay out late”. I knew it was to keep me quiet. I felt like a wailing child hurt by another on the playground, being begged and shushed in the bully’s nervous anticipation of the arrival of a teacher.

It was the longest twenty minutes of my life. After a time, he grew tired of his ruse and got angry. He told me that John was destined for jail, and that perhaps a little ass rape would “straighten him out”. He sang of my accomplishments, rewrote parts of my childhood into an idyllic Norman Rockwell story, chastised me for coming home late. Never once did he mention slamming my head against the wall, wrenching my arm and throwing me to the floor, banging me off the walls all the way up to my bedroom like a sick game of Pong. He still hasn’t, and neither has my mother, who witnessed it all.

Just as we were approaching the end of the forest, a man was jogging into it, visibly perplexed by my now hoarse screams. My head pounded, my lungs seized. “Please help me” I begged, swerving to intercept his path. Why wasn’t he stopping? “Is this your father?” “Yes and he assaulted me, please help!” “Hey Liam! Kids…” and, shaking his head, he jogged on. I’ve never felt so alone. It was worse than the series of nightmares I used to have that Nazis were chasing me across an endless snow-covered field.

As I ran clear into the yard of the house across the street, my mind suddenly alerted me that I was trespassing - as if it mattered. I was still screaming the whole way, and a woman walked out of the horse barn and told me to get inside. She then called the police as I explained to her who was standing awkwardly at the entrance to the woods across the street. In a quiet moment of childlike comfort, I stroked the nose of a brilliantly white horse and cried harder than I had at any other time during the initial and subsequent events.

I watched my father be handcuffed and pushed down into a cruiser, just like on COPS, and then I too got into a cruiser and was whisked away to John’s, where his mother buried my face in her chest for the onslaught of tears, standing in the rain on his back porch. When the officer told her I had been a victim of domestic assault, all she said was “I’m not the least bit surprised”. She always knew, and I never knew she knew until that moment. Not letting on that she knew was the nicest thing she could have done for those four years.

I saw my mother in the fifteen-minute window I had to collect my life’s possessions from the house, throwing everything out the third story window as if flames were engulfing the building. Everything that made it out is in my dorm room now, and it’s all I have. After she saw me, she called to break down crying and promise to still pay for college because I “deserve that experience”. Knowing my mother, it was to preserve her upper-middle-class status within her book group.

The following month was chaos. A detective took photographs of my injuries. I took out a restraining order against my father. I filed in small claims court to retrieve the money from my savings account. John’s parents paid for a lawyer and a new toothbrush. And then, it all died down. I was a college freshman, just like everyone else, except I was homeless.

60% of domestic violence victims show signs of depression, and suicide rates greatly increase after such incidents. I may have to drop out of school to avoid mooching off friends or returning home and having to apologize for the financial strain my involving the police created for my family. That was the incident that made me an adult, and being an adult sure is depressing.

 

The author of this story has since completed college and graduate school, and works as a teacher and mentor to young women in her field. 

Probably Just

 

The following poem was written by a supporter of Steps to End Domestic Violence. Please note potential triggers in this piece.

 

My mother says, “I know you can do better”

But she probably just doesn’t like the way you look.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My sister says, “He wouldn’t be a responsible partner”

But she probably just thinks you party too hard.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My grandma says, “Are you sure he’s the one?”

But she probably just thinks you’re too poor.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My best friend says, “You need to choose yourself first”

But she’s probably just jealous, and wishes you were hers.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

Your sister says, “Be careful with him”

But she probably just thinks her brother can do better.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

Your ex says, "Don't believe him, he'll cheat on you too".

But she probably just hasn't gotten over you leaving her for me.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My neighbor says, “Are you sure you’re safe?”

But she probably just doesn’t like to hear our kinky sex.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My therapist says, “It’s your childhood abandonment issues”

But she’s probably just projecting her own trauma.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My gynecologist says, “Reproductive choice is your right”

But she probably just thinks I’m too young to have children.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My boss says, “Is everything okay at home?”

But she probably just doesn’t want me to be late for work.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My doctor says, “It’s not love, it’s just oxytocin”

But she probably just doesn’t understand feelings.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My teacher says, “That doesn’t sound healthy”

But she’s probably just being overprotective as her job.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My landlord says, “Are you sure you want him here?”

But she’s probably just worried about the utility bill.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

The triage nurse says, “He’ll die of alcoholism soon”

But she’s probably just fear-mongering to make more money.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

The woman on the street says, “Is this guy bothering you?”

But she probably just doesn’t get that I said something wrong.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My old journals say, “Don’t fall into this again”

But I was probably just young and angry then.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My brain tells me, “This is harmful, it has to end”

But it’s probably more important to listen to my heart.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My heart asks me, “Are you sure?”

And I realized that I haven’t asked myself...

Because I think I love you, but do you really love me too?

 

I thought, “I know what love looks like”

But it probably doesn’t look like this.

Because I love you, but I don’t think you do.

 

You say to me, “Fine, I’m leaving right now”

But it’s probably not going to work this time.

Because I’m onto you, and I think you know it too.

 

I used to say, “Please don’t go, I’m sorry”

Because it was probably just my fault

Because I loved you, and I thought you loved me too.

 

So today I say, “See ya later”

But it’s probably just “goodbye”.

Because I love me.